WORDS ON BIRDS
Frigid Temperatures Hamper Christmas Count Efforts
January 13, 2018
By Steve Grinley
The Newburyport Christmas Bird Count was a sharp contrast from the
Cape Ann Count that was held on December 17 under seasonable
conditions. The Newburyport Count was originally scheduled for
December 23 but was postponed due to the ice storm that we had that
day. During that postponement, we had a snowstorm of Christmas Eve
and Day, and the beginning of a long stretch of extremely low
temperatures and below zero wind chills, which were the conditions
on the day of the Count on December 31.
This was the 80th Newburyport Christmas Bird Count, which began in
1938. Count Day temperatures ranged from just 3 to 12 degrees and
the winds were 0- 22 mph, making for below zero wind chills most of
the day. The temperature was the coldest high ever recorded on the
Newburyport Count. (The lowest low temperature ever recorded was
minus 5 degrees in 1989.) Snow depths ranged from 1-6 inches and
most fresh water was frozen.
the count was birded by car this year and the numbers of birds were
predictably low. Ducks and geese were no exception. Less than a
thousand Canada geese were counted and no snow geese or brant were
found. Mute swans were absent and only 326 black ducks were counted.
Few dabbling ducks were present, though 447 mallards were tallied,
one hundred of which we found being fed in one yard in downtown
Even sea ducks numbers were
low as were loons and grebes. Visibility was responsible for some of
that as “sea smoke” made for limited viewing of the ocean birds.
This was the first year in eighty that horned grebes were not seen
on Count Day! Only thirteen common loons and one cormorant were
found on the entire Count!
bald eagles were seen, and below average numbers of other raptors.
Just one peregrine falcon sitting on the Route 1/Merrimack River
Bridge and a goshawk was seen chasing pigeons under the Route
95/Scotland Road Bridge. No kestrels were found this year.
Very few shorebirds were noted with only two each of sanderlings and
dunlin found and just three purple sandpipers. Usually small flocks
of these birds are found on the Christmas Bird Count. Gull numbers
were way down as well.
You should be
pleased to know that only 322 rock pigeons were found, their lowest
number since 2009. Screech owls have been found every year since
1979, but only 3 this year. Three great horned owls were found and
only 1 barred owl in Ipswich. The weather conditions prohibited any
serious owling efforts this year. Eight snowy owls supported the
prediction that there would be good numbers of them around this
A record high four
yellow-bellied sapsuckers were found. There was only one kingfisher
this year after finding 12 last year. A record high five ravens were
discovered, but only 504 chickadees whose numbers were not below
1,000 since 2011. Twenty-two Carolina wrens remains well below their
past record of 87, and only 364 American robins pales their record
high of 2,706 in 2014. Forty-four bluebirds, five catbirds, six
hermit thrushes and one towhee were seen, despite the frigid
Sparrow numbers were
low, though four fox sparrows were located – always a treat. Eleven
red-winged blackbirds and four cowbirds remained in the cold, but
winter finches were absent except for two purple finches. House
finch and goldfinch numbers were also low at 230 and 243
The unofficial total
number of species for the Count was 91, plus 7 Count Week species,
which is historically low for the last 20 years. Still, it was a
valiant effort for those who braved the harsh temperatures to
complete another day of data collection for the annual Christmas
Bird Watcher's Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
years of service to the birding community!
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